Before I went away to college, my mother took me aside and made me promise that I would not become a writer.
She needn’t have worried. First, I suppose, because I was too self-indulgent to risk a life of fiscal precarity. And, in any event, because college blew apart any confidence I had in my writing ability. At 17, I certainly deserved to learn the hard way about rigor and concision. But I never really got over my state of intimidation confronted with the sophistication of others’ voices. I shut myself up, only passing the occasional obsessively rewritten poem like a hard-labored urinary tract stone. I certainly drank enough caffeine to form them.
Do we only really know our true selves once it is too late to do anything about it? And why does that self-realization bring inevitable pain? For me, I learned that I could not deny that part of myself that wanted, in fact felt compelled, to express myself, almost as a form of expiation for the suffering of infinite sensitivity. And that I can only do well that which I love, a huge shortcoming to add to that of the self-indulgence I mention above.
Admitting that to myself came at a time of many changes in my life, changes that I felt I had to force in order to keep my sanity, to give outlet to who I was. I recognized that in order to do that I needed to give myself no excuse not to note things down as they occurred to me. That meant always having something at hand to record those things: random thoughts, impressions, phrases obsessively echoing around the twisted sewerage of my mind, all needing to be exorcised in order to give my spirit rest.
At hand: I needed something physical, not supposed electronic convenience. I have enough frustrations typing at a smartphone keyboard to deter me from using one for this, even if I didn’t already know that I value in some Freudian manner being able to see my own written expression out on paper. Thus, I needed a portable notebook of some kind, and, lastly, it had to be something I wanted to use, something meeting the self-indulgent prescripts of my mind that had kept me from experimenting with writing as a vocation rather than as a compulsion to express myself for the betterment of my own sanity.
The answer is pictured, an ancient Hermès crocodile grand modèle agenda. The agenda is grand only in comparison to its petit sibling, which is truly tiny. This one’s dimensions when closed are about the area of an index card (do they even still make those?). A comfort to my longstanding insecurities that no one used to make small leathergoods the way Hermès did, and their exotics were truly luxurious. This one’s a bit battered around the edges, so I could say it’s been patinated by age and use. Of course, used is the only way I could afford one as a new one would cost as much as a good suit.
Hermès sells these as agendas with various refills for address books, weekly planners and the like. I use their completely blank refill as my notebook for every occurrence of thought. It goes where I go, in briefcases and shoulder bags on the off chance that a fragment of something I am thinking of writing or noting turns up like a long-lost jigsaw piece. And being Hermès, the refills have pleasantly and needlessly good paper in them.
The pen completes the package: a tiny captive sterling pen with cap on a chain with a sprung claw to attach to the same posts that hold the refill in place. Various famous writers, inventors and philosophers went down in history for the peculiar things they needed to have in place in order to write: one needed the smell of rotten apples; another turned his bed north; yet another needed a roaring fire and a purring cat. Even I don’t have the talent or the merit, I have the need to write in some small way to not only express myself but to exorcise and expiate the thoughts I have. These help the demons leave me, even if they do so in otherwise unnecessary luxury. It was necessary to incentivize that exorcism.